Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Article Review: A New Perspective on Energy Systems

It should be obvious by now that I'm a big fan of Joel Jamieson. He really has been working on MMA conditioning, and sports conditioning, as a science. He's also a big fan of aerobic conditioning, something that gets a lot of flack from more strength-oriented types.

Recently Joel gave a presentation at the University of Richmond in Virginia on energy systems.

Here is the link to his blog and the video:

A New Perspective on Energy Systems

What are "energy systems"? Basically, your body either produces energy using oxygen (aerobic energy production) or without oxygen (anaerobic energy production). Those are the only ways your body will produce energy. Aerobic energy can be used over a long period of time, anaerobic energy runs out very quickly. Generally the more intense the activity the higher the percentage of the fuel consumed is produced anaerobic, the less intense the less comes from anaerobic. For more detail, check this post - a review of Joel's book.

This video lecture is really excellent. It's long, yes - 1 hour 7 minutes. So what does it cover?

- A basic discussion of the energy systems. What they are, how they work, what that means for athletic performace.

- The basic tradeoff of strength and endurance - you can't maximize both explosive power/strength and maximize endurance. You can't be the strongest and the longest. You can improve both, but you can't maximize both over the long run.

- Examples of studies showing aerobic vs. anaerobic energy contributions to sports. For example, what % of energy comes from each system in a 100m sprint, 200m, 400m, or 1500m.

- Examples of athletes - specifically a tailback, a fullback (IIRC), an MMA fighter, and a pole vaulter - and how they measure up with a series of energy systems tests.

- Some basic discussion of how you develop these energy systems, and what it means for training.

Again, it's an hour, but if you are, or you train, athletes in sports with any significant conditioning component, this is worth watching.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Age is Nothing But a Number

This 74-year old woman is the world's oldest competitive female bodybuilder. And looks pretty damn strong for 74. Or 47, for that matter.

Six Pack Abs at Age 74

Enjoy your Memorial Day.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Sprint up the stairs

Chris over at Conditioning Research posted a link to an article and excerpt about the "single best exercise." Although that's always tricky ground - best for what? - the conclusion in this one is interesting. Best exercise? Run up hills, or at least run up stairs.

Single Best Exercise

Jim Wendler would be very proud - her he is talking hill sprints.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to Snatch - 1, 2, 3

Glenn Pendlay put together three excellent videos on the snatch, one of the lifts that comprise Olympic weightlifting (the other is the clean and jerk). The snatch is a smooth pull from the floor to overhead.

Here are three videos explaining the lift, and how to coach it/execute it:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

It's interesting to watch the videos even if you are only a fan of weightlifting, not a participant. You'll get a much better understanding of the technical nature of the lift, and what is involved in pulling something clean off the floor to overhead without racking on the shoulders first.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting the strength to squat

First, watch this video over on Starting Strength:

The Leg Press

In it Mark Rippetoe explains how to use the leg press to build up the strength required to complete a squat. I think Mark Rippetoe is engaging in a bit of hyperbole, here. The leg press is the only way? I just can't believe that.

The approach I've been using to take someone into a deeper squat is a bit different. It depends on a few variations - flexibility, strength, fear, and injuries.

If the problem is flexibility, in other words because they can't get to parallel in the squat without significant back flexion because of hip, hamstring, ankle, or other muscle/joint tightness, we address the flexibility. That means things like goblet squats with a hold at the bottom, squat-to-stand stretches, hamstring stretches, etc.

If the problem is strength, and it usually is, we work on improving their strength. Like Mark Rippetoe said, you can't strengthen a range of motion you can't get through. So partials don't work (not for this, anyway). What I'll do instead is try to strengthen the legs to parallel. My preference is to do this with step-ups, but I'll also mix in lunges, Bulgarian Split-Squats, and single-leg hamstring and glute exercises, too - especially one-legged deadlifts and glute bridges. But let's focus on step-ups. You can easily adjust a box or bench to put the working leg (the one on the box) to the exact bend it needs to be to be parallel in the squat. Yes, it's only one leg. But the leg takes a higher load than in a bodyweight squat. It's technically simple. It's easy to load (dumbbells, sandbags, barbells, kettlebells, chains, weighted vests) and it is easy to coach.
Nicely, you can do this even on people who can't load their spine. So if someone has a temporary back issue, you can do step-ups until it's healed up enough to load them with a squat.

If the problem is fear, we start with a box. I use all the stupid jokes about "sit back like it's a toilet" and teach them how to sit on chairs all over again. The box is often a bench. People often have a mental issue with sitting back and down. They're convinced they'll fall. With a box or bench behind them, one that they're sitting down to, they can't fall. Lower the box steadily while you work on other issues - the faster you get them in good form to parallel, the better.
You can also "weight" these with a tiny dumbbell, a ball, a empty water body, whatever, to ensure they have the right position without any added resistance making it more difficult. That will help them learn to squat with weight before they hold any weight.

If the problem is injury you have to either work around it or abandon the squat entirely. It depends on the injury, of course. For example, a spinal injury may mean squatting is out. A knee injury may mean you can't excessively load one leg. It's not always possible to squat.

These are my methods; I've also seen band squats and other trainers I know use ball squats against the wall. I suspect the progressive loading of band squats gets tricky, but it's another way to attack the problem.

Important Note: I'm not claiming Mark Rippetoe is wrong, here, not at all. I have nothing like the wealth of experience he has. I am sure he's absolutely right when he says the leg press will work quickly and effectively.

I just went right to thinking that, well, I don't have a 45-degree leg press and I've gotten people to a parallel squat in good form, even if I didn't subsequently back squat them. My methods may not be ideal, and there may be issues with them I don't see, but hey, I don't have a leg press. I have to make do.

I'd welcome any suggestions from trainers, trainees, or readers in general if you have any experience in this. If you have another way to get someone to weak to squat, to a good squat, without a leg press, please let me know!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Article Review: What Women Should Never Do . . .

Over on Elite FTS there is a very well-written article about dietary mistakes made by women.

What Women Should Never, But Often, Do While Trying to Get in Shape - Part 2

It's not just women who make these mistakes, of course, but it's probably more common* to see these exact issues with women. Plus the article is written by a woman, for women, and thus is probably much more female-friendly than the same article would seem if written by a man.

The advice is all solid, and rings true - there is no perfect plan, falling off the wagon means you are only one meal away from being back on, consistency matters, and you can't fret about the details until you've mastered the big stuff.

Highly recommend read.

* Men have their own issues, like not eating enough while trying to gain weight, or eating way too much for too long and calling it a "bulking cycle" instead of "consistent overeating."

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Review: Yoga - The Path to Holistic Health

My sibling is a big fan, and practitioner of, Iyengar yoga. Since it showed impressive results in a family member I decided to check out a book by the creator of this form.

By B.K.S. Iyengar
Published in 2001
416 pages

Yoga is a mammoth book aimed at explaining, demonstrating, and cataloging Iyengar yoga. It's written by the creator of this form of yoga so you're not getting a diluted version of anything here, just the form as intended. The audience seems to be beginners unfamiliar with yoga at all, but it's complete enough to serve as a desk reference for advanced yogis.

The book opens with an introduction to yoga, and branches from there into the spiritual and diet aspects. The diet section is very light - just pictures and discussions of the three groupings of food. If you eat vegetarian/vegan Indian food, you'll love this section; if you pack down eggs and meat, well, don't look for a lot of support here. The book spends 38 ages on these topics.

The book's main core are the postures. Practically all of the remaining pages are dedicated to the various asanas. Each one is lavishly illustrated with a circle of pictures from start to finish. Each picture is from a different angle that best shows where you want to be and has bullet-point technique cues embedded into it. A small box of text identifies the key benefits ascribed to the posture, which range from muscular benefits to health benefits.

Iyengar yoga can be described in an elevator pitch as "yoga that uses props." Basically the idea is that yoga postures have value, physically and otherwise (remember, in the West yoga is exercise; originally it was spiritual and physical). Not everyone can get into the postures. So, you use props to allow you to achieve the posture from day one and slowly work into doing the postures without them. Anyone who thinks this is cheating should be reminded about barbell pushups, band-assisted pullups, and that dumbbells come in different weights.

Therefore the book dedicates a small chapter to the various props - mats, blocks, ropes, and so on, as well as substitutions (chairs, etc.) you can use instead of custom designed materials. The props are also given in sufficient detail, such as measurements and thicknesses, so you can easily identify what will function effectively as a substitute.

Instead of just showing the postures and then boxing-out some text and a picture of a prop-aided exercise, the book arranges prop-based postures into their own chapter! This makes it very, very easy to break out the "beginner" and "advanced" versions of a posture without any overlap. It's costly in page count but it pays off in clarity.

I have to admit to a few minor disappointments. One is that the notes on the exercises occasionally repeat two big myths. One is "toning" muscles, which is usually code for "not getting bulky." Yeah, yoga isn't going to give you a lot of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy but then again neither will low-rep high-weight lifts, either. Since tone is just how much tension the muscles hold at rest, it's something that isn't developed more or less by using external resistance or your own body's weight and/or posture. The other is spot reduction. Spot reduction is the idea that specific areas can be targeted for fat loss. Sadly it doesn't work that way, or at least not to any significant degree, so poses that claim to clear up fat in certain areas just won't do that. That B.K.S. Iyengar has a round belly isn't very inspiring, either, and makes me want to immediately ignore the section on food. Abdominal fat is basically lethal in the long run, so it's disappointing to see that yoga and yogic eating isn't going to prevent that.

Unlike most fitness books, I don't think this book is terribly useful stand-alone. Think of this book more like a martial arts book than an exercise book. You could learn this form of yoga from this book, but it'll be extremely hard to do the postures and check your form. More so than doing any form of weight training. This book would make a great companio to a class, so you can get a deeper understanding of what you are doing and reinforce your lessons with reading and/or self practice.

Contents: 4 out of 5. Comprehensive and detailed on yoga. Loses a point for propagating the spot reduction and toning myths.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. This is how you should show exercises - step by step with pictures, from all angles, with notes on form embedded into the pictures to ensure clarity. Also well written.

Overall: A very comprehensive book on yoga, but not even remotely cheap. Worth reading (support your local library) if you have any interest at all in Iyengar yoga in specific or yoga in general. It covers Iyengar very well, however, and it's worth the price if you're a practitioner who wants a complete text on the subject.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Heart Health from Exercise

Personally I would file this under "should have been obvious." Your heart health at 40, especially your cardiovascular fitness for exercise, is a strong influence on your heart health at 80.

"So in these studies, women who could run a mile in 12 minutes or less, or a man who could run a mile in ten minutes or less, those individuals were at the lowest risk for heart disease," [Dr.] Berry says.

Gauging Heart Fitness

But that's not really why I am linking to this short article.

Watch the video.

Check out:

- the woman jumping on a bench at 0:10
- the guy pushing a Prowler with the football drive pad add-on at 0:17
- the woman pushing a sled of some kind (could be the Prowler again, I can't tell) at 1:25

Now that I like to see. Sure, you see people on treadmills and steppers and whatnot; but you also see people doing serious weight-resisted cardiovascular training. Also, these aren't young athletes but seemingly normal exercisers trying to get into shape. Nice!

Pay attention to that take-home message, though:

- men who could run 1 mile in under 10 minutes and woman who could run 1 mile in under 12 minutes had the lowest incidence of heart disease.
- if you're out of shape now, you can get into shape and "reap the benefits" of fitness. So it's not too late, no matter where you are starting.

And if you are worried about heart problems and going hard on the conditioning, check this nice article on a study over on Precision Nutrition - Will Sprinting Hurt Your Heart?

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Extreme Pullup

This guy, Steven Proto, posts as "extremistpullup" over on EXRX, and he deserves the name.

The former Marine did a pullup with his bodyweight of 205.2 pounds plus 196.8 pounds of weight around his waist, setting a new world record.

Here is the article.

Very impressive!

So what are these "obscure maneuvers" the article mentions?

The Half Gardner is basically a barbell Turkish Get-Up that starts from the top. An excellent description of the lift can be found here.

The one-arm Zercher is a new one for me. The Zercher Squat I know - squat with a barbell or sandbag held in the crook of your arms. I can only assume the one-arm Zercher is the same lift done with either a dumbbell, barbell (ouch!), or sandbag and one arm.

The Steinborn lift is a way to get a barbell to your shoulders without a squat rack. Basically you stand a loaded barbell on one end, get against it, and then lever it onto your back. Check the pictures on Diesel Crew.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gluten-Free Tennis

Recently, Novak Djokovic has laid on an impressive (potentially record-breaking, even) win streak in professional men's tennis. This comes after his change to a gluten-free diet last year.

Here is an article discussing it:

The Diet that Shook Up Tennis?

I thought it was interesting that they emphasize the idea that this might be, well, a placebo effect in their quote:

Levitsky said a gluten-free diet might have benefits for those with mild allergies, or even no allergy at all. "The other part of the story is, if you believe in a cause of your disorder, it becomes the cause," he said. "We see this in many different studies. If you believe it, you change your behavior in the direction of being cured." (from the article)

So, it might be the fact that his diet wasn't agreeing with him and causing him actual, physical problems. Or it might be the idea that he made a change, changing made him feel like he was better, and so he improved. Perhaps. He was No. 3 in the world in a very, very competitive sport before his diet change, so it's not like he sucked.

It's certainly possible that their is a psychological aspect to this - almost certainly, even. But it's interesting they chose to emphasize that aspect over the possibility that dropping a potential allergen from his diet actually improved his physical well-being, allowing him to do better overall.

With your own diet, it can easily be a mix of the two. You exert more control over your diet in almost any respect and you'll see improvement; consistency is key. But it's also important what you put in your body. Novak Djokovic is certainly seeing that!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Useless hypertrophy

I cannot prove this, but I think this is true.

I don't believe that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is "useless" or "non-functional" hypertrophy.

First, what is hypertrophy, and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? Look here first. Short version? Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in the "fluid" mass of your muscles, rather than an increase in the size of the muscle fibers themselves.

Why do I think this? My reasoning is simple - if it's useless, why does your body do it?

Think of it this way - your body generally has a good reason to act the way it does. Sometimes it does some entirely non-helpful things, like have allergic reactions or have your immune system overcompensate. But even then it's triggered by something, and the reaction makes sense even if it's not helpful. For example, muscle costs more energy to maintain, fat less. Therefore the body holds on to fat easily and sheds muscle mass easily. Keep doing the same motion over and over? Your body adjusts your posture to that position and becomes more and more efficient at using energy to do that motion - which is why 1 mile is hard to run de-trained but ultramarathon runners crank out 26.2 miles like it was a warmup. Lift a heavy weight? You adapt enough to lift that weight and a little bit more, but not more than that.

So, if what your body does is generally useful, and it's usually efficient. So why would it respond to weight training with non-functional muscle mass?

That muscle mass is metabolically costly to create.

The muscle mass is costly to maintain.

So, again, why would it do this if it was useless?

My belief is that this hypertrophy isn't useless; it's adjust adapted to how you train. This hypertrophy must serve a purpose - either as preparation for increased muscle fiber size, or increased fuel storage to do more reps, better leverage (which makes higher reps easier), etc. It may not be as useful for some purposes (such as explosive lifting, jumping, etc.) and may be contrary to your goals (extra size equals extra weight, which is bad in weight class sports). But it's not useless. I don't believe your body would spend so much energy creating and maintaining muscle of any kind if it was useless.

This muscle, by the way, is probably part of the origin of the "big bulk muscles" versus "lean, toned muscle" myth - it's easier to get sarcoplasmic hypertrophy with higher reps than with low reps or long, low-tension exercises. So people training for strength or endurance don't get so much of it, creating an association between the idea that big muscles aren't strong ones, or that weights always create that kind of muscle.

For more on this subject, check out this prior post: The Myth of Non-Functional Hypertrophy, where I discuss an article by Kelly Baggett.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Hip Mobility Drills

Thanks to Bret Contreras (aka "The Glute Guy") for finding this gem from Kelly Starrett:

If your hips are as tight as mine, you'll find this very useful.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The blogger difficulties made it hard to write a post for today. But this excellent blog post from last year came up on EXRX's forums and I'd like to share it here:

Tied Up With Technique?

Basically the idea is, do you let an obsession with perfect technique derail your strength gains? Also, it poses the idea I've mentioned here before, that a new weight with a familiar exercise is very much a new exercise.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hip Mobility with Dan John

Dan John just put up some really nice hip mobility drills on his blog:

Bird Dogs, Can Openers, and Frogs

Tactical frogs. Heh. When normal frogs just won't do.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Planet Fitness vs. your goals

Slate just published an interesting article on Planet Fitness, the chain of gyms infamous for its "lunk alarms" and commercials mocking bodybuilders. First, please read this article:

Gym Rat Control
By Luke O'Neil

What does this article imply to me?

Planet Fitness doesn't care about your results, just your membership.

What makes me think so?

They don't offer any personal training. So basically, you're on your own even if you feel you need training. Not sure what is a good program? They won't help.

The owner dumps on the idea of training, too - saying "who the hell needs a friend for 50 bucks an hour?" Perhaps a friend for $50/hour might be what some trainers offer, but not good ones. While I approve of the idea of not trying to sell you training you don't need, I don't think it's useful or helpful to deride the idea of training.

Planet Fitness does offer group fitness instruction - which, apparently, is not renting a friend for an hour, it's renting friends for an hour, so that's different. I guess wholesale friends are fine, it's just retail they object to.

They don't offer up any heavy weights to lift, and frown upon excessive sweat. Okay, so if you lift too heavy or work too hard, you're out.
What this tells me is that you get no guidance, punished for working hard (or at least showing it), and given limited options for improvement.

They don't even offer up the expectation of improvement. Do you see anything in a PF ad or gym location that shows you what you can achieve with effective and efficient training? I don't. They offer you a chance to do some exercise, but not any form of goal or potential for achievement.

Heck, they serve you pizza! Pizza is a great food, but is it healthy and conducive to your fitness goals? Probably not. And are they serving it because they think you need that to reach your goals, or are they serving it because they have a good dollar return on doing so? Pizza isn't an ideal fat loss food, either, and I bet more people have that as their goal when they join PF than anything else.

Sharing the gym isn't reality and hasn't been for a long time.
The author of the article suggests that this might be the start of segmentation of the gym population. I don't think that's a legitimate fear; it's just reality. Some gyms cater to the general public, like Planet Fitness, or 24 Hour Fitness, or Gold's Gym. Some of these are as much pickup places as they are gyms - men flexing and women lifting in tight, tight outfits, all pretending not to be eyeing each other.
Others aim firmly at a crowd of athletes - look at DeFranco's Training or Diesel Crew.
Still more are powerlifting gyms - Elite and Westside Barbell, for example.
You'll find gyms that cater exclusively to people who want or need personal training.
Others are boutique fitness gyms, aiming at a somewhat wealthier crowd - you'll see these kind of places in every upscale NJ town, with clever names and SUVs and Priuses parked around the place.
Some gyms are more mixed, with both athletes and injury rehab clients and fat loss, but these are rarely big commercial places.

The gym population is already segmented. It's always been divided up; this chain is just trying to carve off the serious training population in the hopes of attracting a large pool of members from the crowd unsure and intimidated by training. And that's the real loss, to me. They don't care about your results, and they're essentially preying on the folks unsure of what training involves. People know they need exercise, they want to get in shape, but they don't know what to do or what works, and they're nervous around people training for something different than they do. PF does its best to cater to this crowd, get them in the door, and get their memberships in return for minimal costs (like paying trainers . . . ) It's probably a very good business strategy, and defining a strong "other" to mock and ostracize, especially when that other is a minority you can safely lose and replace with other customers, is effective.

I just think it's more sad than anything else.

Any thoughts?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Isometrics + Explosive Training for Athletes

There is an excellent article over on Elite FTS now that deals with isometric exercises for athletes.

Isometric Training for Athletes

Although the article begins, inexplicably, with a picture of barefoot running, it's not about running at all. Instead, it's about isometric exercises, often combined with explosive exercises.

The idea is pretty simple - you use the isometric exercise to get used to resisting force, and then acting to suddenly tense your muscles against that force to overcome it. Done properly, this totally eliminated the "stretch reflex," where your body stores energy in its elastic tendons briefly before using it to reverse a movement. Think of how you crouch down briefly before you jump, to coil up and store some energy.

The execution is pretty smart - he shows how to load the isometric and then perform unloaded explosive exercises, as well.

Overall, this is a great explanation of an excellent tool in a strength & conditioning coach's toolbox. Worth checking out if you are, or train, an athlete.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: Massage for Sports Performance

Massage for Sport Performance
by Michael McGillicuddy
Published 2011
180 pages

Massage for Sport Performance is an introduction to sports massage. The book seems primarily aimed at massage professionals looking to understand the specialty of sports massage. For example, the book explains different types of strokes and how to use them for sports massage, but doesn't go into very great detail on the basics of those stokes. If you don't already know how to use kneading vs. petrissage vs. stripping strokes, you won't learn how here. But you will learn why you use them, in what circumstances, when massaging an athlete to improve sports performance.

The book has 16 pages of introduction to sports massage, include what its for, the role of the trainer, the role of the athlete, and some terminology as well. It also has 13 pages on massage equipment, from towels and massage tables to room furnishings. It seems quite complete; the book is clearly aiming to be authoritative and thorough. This is followed by sections on massage for:

Preevent Massage (that's pre-event, the book omits the hyphen my brain and spellchecker both demand)
Postevent Massage
Recovery Massage

The chapter on stretching is the most generally useful. The stretches are well-illustrated and are broken up by body parts, which good accompanying text to let you know how and when to use them. The book (nicely) recommends warming up prior to stretching, which is the currently accepted practice. The idea is that physically warmer muscles stretch more smoothly and easily, and thus benefit more from stretching. The other sections are excellent, well-illustrated, and so on - but are aimed at a massage professional. They might be very helpful to an amateur masseuse looking to help a close partner with specific issues, but the main aim is professionals.

Finally the book has sports specific massage, for running, football, basketball, soccer, baseball, golf, and tennis. The details of what massages are useful and why are interesting and well-detailed.

The book also comes with a DVD demonstrating much of the material within the book. None of the stretches are demonstrated, however, but all of the massage techniques are.

Content: 4 out of 5. If you're a massage professional, this book seems to have enough to get you started on sports massage. If not, it's a little less useful.
Presentation:5 out of 5. Attractive pictures, easy to read text, useful charts, excellent organization and a complete index.

Overall: As a book of continuing education for massage therapists, this is an excellent book. For those who expect to receive sports massages and who want to know what it entails, this is also very useful. For general use by athletes and folks seeking to get into shape, the book is of limited value.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

2 Clean Bulking Foods

Here are some high-calorie solutions for skinny folks looking to pack on muscle. All of these are whole foods, most of them are pretty "clean" - no trans fats, little or no processing, etc. Note this isn't "low fat" or "low carb" and isn't intended to be. If you want to gain muscle, you have to take in a lot of calories. Here are some (easy) ways to do it.

Disclaimer - I eat most of these foods. I often eat a fair amount of them. I don't have a nice track record of sudden gains to show you; it took a long time and a lot of eating and lifting to get where I am. Finally, I spend at least 1/4 of any given year dieting down to compete, and probably another 1/4 to 1/2 eating at maintenance so I can stay within an easy cut of my weight class. But I love food, and I love a good excuse to pack in a lot of it without regretting a lot of processed crap the next day.

Dried Fruit: Dried fruit is a fat-loss no-no. Dehydrated fruit leaves all the sugars but reduces the overall volume of food. You could eat maybe 1-2 peaches before you feel like you've eaten enough, but you can knock off a dozen dried peaches without really filling up. A fat loss no-no equals a weight gain goldmine.

For example, a cup of raisins - pretty much two handfuls - is almost 115g of carbohydrates and over 400 kcals.

Dried fruit can be a bit too sweet by itself, though, so you can add some nuts.

Nuts: Mostly fat, these are extremely calorie-dense foods. Low volume, high calorie, easy to eat = easy way to get extra calories.

For example, a cup of almonds is 820 kcals, and has 30g of protein and almost 17g of fiber. Peanuts (not actually a nut, but still . . .) are almost 875 kcals for the same volume, with 40g of protein and almost 14g of fiber.

A cup is a lot of nuts for one sitting, but not over a day. Measure it out and add it in.

If you're trying to put on weight but can't seem to get in enough food, take a look at those two. Calorie-dense, easy to eat, portable, and great together or separately.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fortune cookie wisdom

I received this piece of wisdom in a fortune cookie (and yes, I ate the cookie, it was a cheat meal right after a workout).

"When things go wrong, don't go with them."

Amusing, sure, but it also sparked some thoughts about working out.

What do you do when you are training and things take a turn for the worst?

Quit. Probably the most popular. Give up, go home. Nurse the injury, forget the weight you couldn't budge today, just end the workout and go home. The pro to this one is you sure as heck aren't going wrong with them. The cons are the "giving up" part, where you neither adapt nor overcome, and the "go home" part, where you miss a chance to get some kind of training effect.

Forge ahead. Probably the second most popular one. Ignore it. Keep trying for heavy weights no matter how badly your form is deteriorating. Ignore the pain and push through it. The pro is you demonstrate your resolution, mental toughness, and drive. The con is that you can get further injured or just injured because you aren't listening. You are going wrong along with those "things" my anonymous fortune cookie writer spoke of.

Modify your workout and continue. Probably the least common, but possibly the best response. Instead of just quitting, you find something you can do. Leg hurts? Do upper body. Back hurts? Do some isolation exercises for your limbs and get in some light work to rehab the back. The pro to this is that you still get something done, and don't waste the workout session. The con to this is that it's hard, especially mentally, because you need to find just the right level of "enough" and of "different" to avoid going further wrong. Emotionally it's frustrating, because you have that nagging feeling you just aren't toughing it out.

For the record, most of the time I got for option 2: Forge ahead. I try my best to do number 3, and I insist my clients take option 1 (bag it, go home) or option 3 (let's do something you can do).

How about you?

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mike Robertson on Coaching Neutral Spine

Coaching a "neutral spine" - a spine in proper alignment - is critical to any form of plank, squat, deadlift, swing, or other standing lift.

Coaching it can be a little tricky. Mike Robertson has a great post on exactly how to do that.

Coaching Neutral Spine

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cardio for MMA: Intervals vs. Steady State

Joel Jamieson wrote an excellent piece on the subject of cardio training for MMA.

The LSD vs. HIIT Debate

What is LSD? - it stands for Long Slow Distance cardio. Think jogging, running, or biking at a steady pace for a long distance and/or time.

What is HIIT? - it stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Think jogging the curves and sprinting the straightaways on a track, running up hills and then walking down, 30 seconds of hard biking followed by 30 seconds of easy biking - alternating intensities.

Slow distance cardio has been regarded less well than HIIT recently in combat sports. Joel Jamieson is a proponent of using both - LSD to establish a base of aerobic capacity, and HIIT to improve your ability to function at higher intensities. This article makes a good case for LSD cardio for MMA fighters, and it also gives a great description of the ways your body adapts to each of them.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: Real Men Do Yoga

I first heard about this book over on this blog thanks to Mike Robertson's link to the post. So I decided to check it out from the library, and then check it out. Ironically, Mike Robertson had just posted a blog post saying yoga was overrated (while outlining both the good and bad of it), so make of this what you will. Perhaps I'm just being contrarian by reviewing this.

Real Men Do Yoga
by John Capouya
Published 2003
195 pages

This book is predicated on two ifs - if you are a man (preferably, a guy - think T-Nation here) and if you are intrigued by yoga but are concerned it's for "girls." If those two things are true, this book might just be for you. You are certainly in the target demographic.

The tone of the book fits this exactly - mentions of hot yoga girls, being humbled by the poses, knowing asides about getting your cardio from sex and sports instead of faster yoga styles, etc. But there is probably a reason for this. Yoga gets slammed for, well, not being weight training - and slammed hard - in most articles that deign to mention it at all on weight training sites. Gymnastics doesn't get so much hate, despite being quite similar (yoga handstand vs. handstand?), mobility drills are lauded as a great warmup (but yoga is bad), etc. There are exceptions, but they aren't that common and keep the "yoga is sometimes good despite sucking" theme up. So that explains the style of writing. It's not badly done here, though, and it makes a good case for why yoga is for you, even if - especially if - you also weight train and want to continue with both. It wholly avoids the typical "this is better than that" false dichotomy you'll find books espousing alternate training techniques.

Tone and audience aside, what's in the book?

The book takes a piece-by-piece approach to the body and to yoga. First it outlines basic moves to flex the upper body and spine (that's thoracic spine, aka t-spine or upper back, and lumber spine, aka l-spine and lower back). Next, it takes you through a series of poses to do the same to your hips and legs - especially the former. Then it's time for balance.

The poses are a mix of the pretty basic (cobra, downward dog) to the more advanced (crow, pigeon, eagle). They are presented in a seemingly logical order, though - each pose is certainly harder than the previous one, and the later chapters assemble them in a more difficult fashion than the earlier chapters.

The book gets bonus points for emphasizing functional abs over visible six-pack abs, although it does somewhat falsely put out the idea that not everyone could get them. Everyone probably could, if they really wanted to exercise and diet hard to get them. But the discussion is purely centered on the value of a midsection strong in all directions, both at generating and resisting movement.

Further chapters in the book go into suggested sport-by-sport workouts, longer yoga routines, and how to avoid (and deal with!) injuries when doing yoga. That's right, injuries - something you don't find in a lot of yoga book discussions. The book frankly admits you can get hurt, how to avoid getting pushed too far by overzealous instructors or your own ego, and how to cope if you do.

There are also chapters on meditation and, this book being aimed squarely at guys, sex. It's only a few pages but it's a guide to using yoga to improve your sex life. It reminds me a bit of Built For Show in that it frankly admits you want to get in shape to meet women and impress them once you do.

The athletes who do yoga are interesting, but because of the date, mostly retired. It's nice that Sean Burke did yoga, but he's retired from the NHL now. Only a few athletes are still playing, so it's getting more and more dated as the days go by.

Some of the information on weight training is inaccurate, or at least misleading. For example, the book says "Weight-training actually tears muscles, creating scar tissue (that's what forms the visible bulk)." That's not true. "Tears muscles" may be accurate - microscopic muscle tears in the muscles, which then heal stronger, is one way muscles may get stronger (there are multiple theories on this). But the "visible bulk" of muscles is hypertrophy - muscle fibers increasing in size, and/or being surrounded by increased supporting materials. It's not scarring; scar tissue is weak and inflexible, muscles may not be ideally flexible but they aren't weak, and can in indeed move. Further information on the role of lactic acid is outdated - it's increasingly being viewed as a fuel, not a downside of training, for example. Yoga is also presented as integrative, which is true - it's always some form of compound exercise (in other words, it involves multiple joints). But the contrast is with machine exercises, which are designed to be isolative. Little mention is made of free weights or bodyweight exercises, except to contrast them to yoga moves in a way that makes them seem inferior (even when nearly identical, such as pushups with yoga-style pushups).

Content: 4 out of 5. The yoga information is excellent, but it could have used the original names for the poses more clearly (so you could use other references), and it really would benefit from more pictures, not just a final post picture. The non-yoga information is sometimes wrong, or at least misleading, and that costs a lot of points.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Very easy to read, and while it lacks a bit in attractiveness of the typeface, it's not hard on the eyes. The pictures are clear and the content is well-organized.

Overall: If you are a guy, and have never done yoga, or if you haven't in a long time, this book might be for you. It's got a good starting set of poses and routines, makes a good case for trying them out, and doesn't dumb it down excessively even as it makes it easier. Recommended for guys who meet the ifs, otherwise another yoga book might be for you.

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